Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Bring" and "Take": Knowing the Difference

The word bring seems to be very popular these days. So popular, in fact, that it's being overused and, in many cases, confused for the word take. And, as Pu Yi's tutor Reginald Johnston (as portrayed by Peter O'Toole) said in The Last Emperor, "a man must say what he means, or he may not mean what he says." [Yes, I've used that quote before; it's one of my all-time favorites, particularly since I'm guilty of the same error.]

Webster's--the industry standard in book publishing, not Oxford--offers this definition of bring: "transitive verb: to convey, lead, carry, or cause to come along with one toward the place from which the action is being regarded; to cause to be, act, or move in a special way." This could include the acts of attracting, persuading or inducing, forcing or compelling, or causing to exist or occur.

Take has a mile-long definition in Web and its list of synonyms is just as long, but essentially it is a transitive verb meaning to get into one's hands or into one's possession, power, or control, to seize or capture physically, to captivate or delight, choose or select, etc. etc.

There is room for a lot of overlap, which leads to confusion. So much so that the Chicago Manual of Style--the bible of commercial publishing--bring and take in its "Glossary of Troublesome Expressions" and says that it is "common" for people to confuse the distinction. But Chicago distills the distinction rather well, even though it may seem a little contradictory to Web's definitions:

If the action is directed toward you, use bring. If it is directed away from you, use take.

Hence, bring it on and take it off. So avoid constructions like I brought my car to the mechanic and be careful with I brought it with me.

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